'Vicar of Baghdad' ministry hit by Charity Commission inquiry

The Charity Commission has launched an inquiry into a charity headed by Rev Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad', over 'serious regulatory concerns'.

The Charity Commission has launched an inquiry into a charity headed by Canon Andrew White.Reuters

White set up CAWRM Ltd, known as Jerusalem Merit, after he left the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East following a Charity Commission inquiry over alleged ransom payments to secure the freedom of girls held as slaves by Islamic State. He was told last year a police counterrorism investigation into him had been dropped.

White said on Facebook in November 2016 that the new charity 'will not be a registered charity because that places on us too many restrictions'.

Now, however, the Commission has highlighted its concerns over Jerusalem Merit's governance, including 'the charity's funds having been held in the personal bank account of an individual linked to the charity, at a time during which the individual was under police investigation for terrorist financing offences'. It also questions the transfer by courier of £45,000 in cash to the Middle East, the 'unauthorised employment and remuneration of a trustee', 'unexplained large payments to a limited company whose sole director is the individual linked to the charity' and 'the inability to account for the charity's funds before it was registered with the Commission'.

A statement by the charity said Jerusalem Merit provided support for Iraqi refugees in Jordan who had no other means of support, education or health care. It said it was 'disappointed' with the Charity Commission's approach, and that ' some of the comments in its press release were 'inaccurate'. It noted that it had asked the Commission many times for 'guidance and leadership' but had only received three answers. 'On each occasion the answer has either been totally unsatisfactory or has conflicted with information that they have provided,' the statement said.

'Whilst we acknowledge that there were some initial shortcomings beyond our control the Trustees are of the opinion that there is now adequate Governance and controls in place,' it said.